The Centre on Thursday appointed a commission to examine the matter of according Scheduled Caste status to those who were Dalits but have converted to religions that are not mentioned in the Presidential orders under Article 341 of the Constitution, reported Live Law.
The order states that the Scheduled Caste status is available only to persons of Hindu, Sikh and Buddhist faiths.
Former Chief Justice of India KG Balakrishnan will be heading the commission which also includes retired Indian Administrative Service officer Ravinder Kumar Jain and member of the University Grants Commission Professor Sushma Yadav.
The commission will be looking into the implications of how including new persons into the Scheduled Caste category will impact the already-existing ones.
The three-member commission will also examine the changes Scheduled Caste persons go through on converting to other religions in terms of customs, traditions, social and other status discriminations.
The Union Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment in its notification issued on Thursday said that the matter is “seminal and historically complex sociological and constitutional question” which makes it a definite matter of public importance.
“Given its importance, sensitivity and potential impact, any change in definition regard should be on the basis of a detailed and definitive study and extensive consultation with stakeholders and no Commission under the Commissions of Inquiry Act, 1952 (60 of 1952) has inquired into the matter,” the Centre noted.
The development came after the Supreme Court in August sought Centre’s response on a plea claiming that the Constitution (Scheduled Castes) Order of 1950 that was amended to say that only Hindus, Buddhists and Sikhs will be considered to be Scheduled Castes discriminates on grounds of religion.
The non-governmental organisation Centre for Public Interest Litigation had filed the plea in 2004.
Advocate Prashant Bhushan, appearing on behalf of the NGO, had cited the Justice Ranganath Mishra Commission report released in 2007 that said Dalits in other religions are subjected to the same discrimination as in Hinduism.
“Even though Christianity and Islam do not recognise caste system or untouchability, the ground reality in India is different,” the report had said. “Persons of Scheduled Caste origin converted to Christianity/Islam continue to be subjected to disabilities, including untouchability associated with caste and occupation, as they continue to be part and parcel of the Indian society.”
In 2011, National Commission for Scheduled Castes had told the Supreme Court that it has recommended providing reservation to Dalit Christians and Dalit Muslims, provided they fulfil two conditions – if they continue to practice their traditions and customs as they did before conversion, and if they continue to face social disabilities due to untouchability – reported The Hindu.